British police said Saturday that a collective living situation based on shared political beliefs is at the root of a suspected slavery case involving three women that led to the arrest of two suspects this week.
The case involves three women who were allegedly held against their will for over 30 years at a house in south London. Police have said they were kept in place by "invisible handcuffs" and may have been brainwashed.
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Police said the two suspects, a man and woman both aged 67, came to Britain in the 1960s from India and Tanzania. The suspects have been freed on bail but have surrendered their passports to authorities.
"We believe that two of the victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology, and that they lived together at an address that you could effectively call a `collective,"' said Commander Steve Rodhouse, revealing fresh details about the case.
He said police are still investigating the nature of the collective and the people involved. He would not provide details about the group or its beliefs.
Trying to gain confidence of the women
The three women allegedly held captive include a 69-year-old Malaysian, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 30-year-old Briton. They are receiving counselling at an undisclosed location.
Rodhouse said police are trying to determine how the collective came to an end and how the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects.
'How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives.' - Comm. Steve Rodhouse
"How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives," he said.
Police said the woman who is now 30 appears to have lived with the suspects and the other women for her entire life.
Rodhouse said the woman "does have a birth certificate" but that no other official documentation could be found.
Police on Saturday tried to contact local residents in the Brixton area of Lambeth in south London for information about the suspects.
Television footage showed police searching an apartment building in the neighbourhood.
Rodhouse said police are working "to gain the trust and confidence of the highly traumatized victims" and said the process would take time.
"This must move at their pace, not anyone else's," he said.
The arrests were made after the Irish woman phoned the Freedom Charity last month to say she was being held against her will along with two others. The charity engaged in a series of clandestine conversations with the women and contacted police. Two of the women eventually left the house, and police rescued the third.
Anita Prem, founder of the charity, said the group has received an "extraordinary rise" in calls to its helpline since the case was made public Thursday.
"We are needing to increase our resources to cope with this extra demand," she said.